“It was really junior varsity, to be quite honest with you,” Tomlin said after the 19-14 victory. “It was in all three phases. We couldn’t run the ball effectively when we needed to. We dropped too many significant passes, very catchable, makeable passes. We didn’t make significant plays in the special teams game. Our kickoff coverage unit wasn’t good enough. We turned the ball over. We gave up big plays in critical moments on defense. Can’t have it.”
Tomlin continued, excoriating his undefeated team.
“[The Ravens] converted a long run on a possession down before the half,” he said. “Unacceptable. They had a 70-yard touchdown late in the game. Unacceptable. We’re fortunate tonight. It’s good to proceed with the victory. I acknowledge that. But not a lot happened tonight to be proud of or to be excited about other than that.”
The Steelers (11-0) put together a sloppy and error-riddled performance in the close win against their short-handed AFC North rival. The offense had five dropped passes, matching the most in the past 15 seasons — in 2019 versus the Rams and 2007 versus the Browns.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who had an interception in the end zone along with a touchdown, took the blame for the drops.
“I need to be more accurate with my passes,” Roethlisberger said. “I need to give them better chances to make the plays. There weren’t some plays made today when they needed to be.”
The Steelers were also ineffective in the red zone, especially in the first half. Three of their drops came in the red zone in the first half — the most of any team in an NFL game over the past three seasons.
They also failed to score a touchdown on their first three trips to the red zone, matching their most in a game this season. On the season, the Steelers entered the game scoring a touchdown on 69% of red zone drives, good for seventh in the NFL.
To explain his team’s failures in the red zone and the receiver drops, Tomlin offered a clipped explanation: “Us sucking.”
Tomlin refused to blame the poor performance on the roller-coaster week leading up to the game that saw three postponements and an unconventional 3:40 ET kickoff on a Wednesday afternoon.
“We make no excuses,” he said. “We seek no comfort. We didn’t play well, coach well tonight.”
Like his coach, wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster said his team played down to the Ravens (6-5), at a level the Steelers should’ve been above.
“We played like the JV,” Smith-Schuster said. “You know, we played down to their level. They came out with a JV squad and we were playing JV and we didn’t come out and execute and play the way we wanted to play. And as you could see, it was a close game, which shouldn’t have happened.”
The Steelers play again in just five days, taking on the Washington Football Team on Monday evening in a game rescheduled to accommodate Wednesday’s delayed game. It’s a short week, but Tomlin said he believes that despite his frustrations, his team can turn it around.
“We don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” he said. “It’s not some transformational thing that needs to transpire. We got to coach better and play better when we get inside the bowl. I expect our group to do that Monday night, Monday evening, whenever it is that we play.
At the end of his raw news conference, Tomlin was asked if he’s ever been more frustrated after a win. He stopped for a beat and pondered the question.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I know this one’s pretty frustrating.”